We've all seen the amazing close-up images obtained from the most powerful observation device in the science community, the fantastic electron microscope Though the device has been in existence since 1931, scientists have only ever spied its discoveries in black-and-white. Now, in a celebratory moment marking the end of 15 years of study, a team of researchers at the University of California, San Diego headed by Mark Ellisman and Roger Tsien has revealed the first color images ever taken with the electron microscope.
An electron microscope uses beams of accelerated electrons as its primary source of illumination instead of light and is capable of high magnification shots up to many million times. The trick was accomplished by layering rare earth metals over a laboratory sample of a cell, enabling scientists to create a simple three-color image of glowing peptide proteins absorbed into the cell's membrane.
“It’s a bit like when you first see a color photograph after having only known black and white,” noted Stephen Adams, a UCSD chemist. “[For] the last 50 years or so, we’ve been so used to monochrome electron micrographs that it’s now hard to imagine that we could go back. A transmission electron microscope can distinguish each of these metals by electron energy-loss to give elemental maps of each that can be overlaid in color on the familiar monochrome electron micrograph."
Though the limited range of colors are not natural, they do assist in focusing attention to the structural features, allowing for easier detection of different types of molecules. Official results of this illuminating, chromatic discovery were published last week in the online magazine Cell Chemical Biology. This green, red and yellow false-color visualization of vital cellular features is not intentionally added, but truly represent the image's biological components such as cellular membranes and the synaptic connections between brain cells.
It's a colorful breakthrough that will having profound reverberations across a multitude of academic fields and industrial enterprises.